Jerrett Taylor is one of the founders of the Vanisle Backcountry Festival, a weekend-long festival at Mt Cain, where he's been working on bringing the backcountry community together and raising awareness about safety through the Vancouver Island Avalanche Bulletin, among other things. He was kind enough to answer some of my many questions, and opening my eyes to the world of backcountry sporting, a world I confess being uneducated about. Beyond the snow-related aspects, sounds like it was a pretty epic party. Check out the amazing pictures courtesy of Dave Silver Photography to see the fun on the slopes, and at the after party!
1. Have you been involved in the festival from the beginning, if so, were you one of the founders?
I've been involved from the beginning, and yeah.
2. What is the inspiration behind the festival?
I came up with the idea after attending a few splitboarding festivals (the ones at Mount Baker and Rogers Pass) - I loved the sense of community and the fundraising aspects of those events, and thought it would be a great idea on the island. Initially we raised funds to improve the backcountry gates and signs at Mt. Cain, and then the fundraising has turned to the Vancouver Island Avalanche Bulletin.
3. What is the most surprising thing that's come out of the festival, thus far?
It's been surprising how much work it is!
4. Safety is obviously a huge part of backcountry. Do you feel that backcountry skiing/boarding has gotten safer over the past few years, worse, or stayed the same?
I think it's getting safer - there is more education, more awareness (CAC has done an impressive effort on avalanche awareness), and better gear. It's easy to point the finger at large numbers of newcomers flooding the backcountry and say that people out there are new and reckless, but the numbers of incidents are not increasing in ways that support this theory - and the majority of users involved in incidences are experienced, not newcomers.
5. Can you sum up what the festival means to you, and what your hopes are to come out of it?
The festival to me is a way to bring people together as a community and to help keep our island bulletin alive and well.
6. You must ski backcountry, where have you done so, and where was your favourite place?
I splitboard : ) I've toured in various places in B.C. and Washington, and my favourite place is hard to pick. If I had to pick one place to be, it would be Vancouver Island - we have smaller mountains, wetter snow, harder access - but we have almost no people out there and I can surf the same day as I tour. As much as I love the mountains, I could not survive without the ocean : )
7. Skiing/snowboarding in a Thuggie, yes or no?
Not yet. It's coming! Hopefully there will be some thuggies at the party this year...
8. Apres skiing in a Thuggie, yes or no?
Ditto. Not yet, but oh yes, I will be.
9. Funzie. Our onesie. Are you for or against the bum flap?
For apres, that's just brilliant - I think riding in it could end up in sadness though, but I haven't tried one yet.
10. What do you think the biggest danger about backcountry skiing is? Unprepared tourists? Lack of gear? Non education? All of the above?
The biggest danger of backcountry skiing is none of the above, it's the human factor. Our fear of being the one to say no, or our ability to ignore ourselves in the interest of our ego or stoke. Lack of proper training and education I would say to be the next in line, but really, the people getting in trouble most often are trained, educated, and fully equipped.
11. What do you hope to achieve through the Vanisle Festival?
I hope to bring people together - to help provide an environment for a community to thrive, both for people who are already touring and for people who are interested in getting into it - safely, and with their eyes open. This year we have ACMG guides doing guided backcountry laps (by donation to the bulletin) which I am super stoked about, as it will be a perfect intro for people wanting to get into the backcountry in a safe and educational way.
12. If you could make one change to a Thuggie, what would it be?
You guys should totally make a waterproof version. Or maybe iridescent.
Anything else you want to share with me?
This year is the third year of the festival and the first year the festival is being officially run by the Vancouver Island Avalanche Center Society.
This is a big deal to me because the momentum it has gained is impressive, but the first two years have been entirely run by myself, Jessica Evans, and Eric Sprenger. Having it handed over to the bulletin means it will be bigger than the three of us, and be much more likely to continue and grow in the future. I'm on the board of directors for VIACS, so I'm still just as involved, but it's a big weight to know that if I can't be involved for some reason in the future, that the show should go on!
Also a huge thank you to all the sponsors who have make this possible - we have had such a great show from some excellent companies, and clearly the fundraiser would not be possible without it. A big thank you to Jessica Evans as well, her experience as a Project Manager has been a huge part of keeping this going year after year.
Jerrett had much to say about the event, and it's successes.
"The festival was a massive success, surpassing our expectations in every regard - I've heard from numerous sources that we came close to if not broke ticket sales records as well as attendance records at Mt. Cain. I certainly have never seen that many people camping up there - or that many smiles. I met people who had come from as far away as Alberta, the Kootenays, Washington State, as well as plenty of islanders and lower mainlanders who had never been to Cain before. We had excellent weather, great touring conditions, and an awesome party in the woods - in which I was Djing proudly in my neon green Thuggie. The two thuggies that you guys donated for the raffle showed up and danced as well, and I'm happy to report the people inside them danced as well - looking very comfortable, warm, and perhaps a bit smug about how awesome their choice of clothing was.
Overall we raised over $4,500 for the Avalanche bulletin and we actually had to stop taking signups for the guided tours (and run some on Sunday as well to get everyone who signed up out, even though it was intended to be a single day event) because there were too many people wanting to do it. Next year we will plan for both days, and see if we can get more laps in now that we know how popular it is. The guides did an amazing job of running the backcountry laps like workshops, training people on whatever people wanted to be trained on, while skiing some incredible lines.
We are super stoked on how it all came together, and a huge thanks to all the people who came - I heard from many locals that they were happy to see that the people who came to the event were "the right kind of people", and that was one of the most rewarding parts of the whole event for me. I'm stoked for next year already!"
Thanks Jerrett, huge congrats and we'll have to make it next year!